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FROZEN SLICES OF LIFE

By Charmayne Allison

Echuca’s Justin Sloan leads a double life – IT business manager 9-5 but after that the world is, literally, his oyster. Armed with his camera he climbs mountains and trees, gets down and dirty, and waits through the darkest of nights for the most glorious of mornings. CHARMAYNE ALLISON talked to him about the world he sees through his camera’s lens.

BEAUTIFUL things come to those who wait.

If there’s one thing Echuca’s Justin Sloan has learnt in his eight years as a photographer, it’s patience.

It might only take a nanosecond to snap a photo. Anyone can do that, nearly everyone does with today’s hi-tech phones.

But capturing the classic image – such as the one that blazed over Kow Swamp in Gunbower last week – can take hours of planning, framing and waiting.

And patience.

Patience by the bucket load.

But Justin said it’s all worth it for those “frozen slices of life” – photographs of moments where natural beauty, perspective, light (and all the stars and planets) align.

It’s moments like these he’s been chasing since he started taking photos after his daughter Olinda was born.

While he’d always had an interest in photography, having a child made him reach for the camera.

And has never put it down.

Since then, this pursuit has flourished into a passion for landscape photography, taking him to some of the most beautiful mountains, oceans, fields and lakes across the country.

But Echuca, the home of his childhood, is the one place he keeps coming back to.

“There’s a lot of beauty around Echuca and along the Murray River,” he said.

“I find the untouched bushlands the most beautiful, although they can be very difficult to convey into a photograph because of all the detail, but nonetheless the most beautiful to be in and around.

“But Kow Swamp in Gunbower has to be the most beautiful location in the region I have discovered so far.”

Born and bred in Echuca, Justin, now 32, looks back fondly on an idyllic childhood with his brothers and mates.

He loved the outdoors from day one, taking his BMX bike down to the bush or fishing on the riverbanks.

“I’ve always had an interest in nature – I think my bike was just an excuse to get me outdoors, similar to how the camera is now,” he said.

He made the difficult decision to move from Echuca in 2007 to pursue an IT degree at Deakin University.

He now lives in Manor Lakes with wife Janelle and daughter Sloan, 8, and sons Elijah, 7, and Loxley, 2.

A perfect middle ground between his day job as an IT business manager in the insurance industry near the CBD and the photographer’s playground of the Great Ocean Road.

Where he spends a lot of his spare time chasing sunsets.

“The peak sunset light is the moment the sun passes underneath the horizon,” Justin said.

“Some people think as it goes underneath the horizon, it’s all over. But if conditions are right, this will actually be when the sky catches fire.

“From my experience, this is most likely to occur when there’s a combination of a nice partly-cloudy day (we need clouds as these reflect the light), high altitude clouds around sunset time and a chance of rain the following day.

“I try to research for these conditions when planning a landscape sunset.”

In addition to a lot of planning, Justin said his photography trips can require hours of hiking – and then reshoots if all those stars and planets don’t exactly align.

“One of my most challenging trips would have to be hiking to the highest peak at the Grampians to capture the sunset at Redman Bluff,” he said.

“I hiked for several hours up a steep incline with 20kg of camera equipment (film and digital). When I reached the top I had to manoeuvre around a cliff edge to reach the perfect composition.

“I found my composition and waited about an hour on the peak for the sun to set.

“But as the sun set I saw a small pink cloud heading straight towards me – it actually passed right through my body,” he laughed.

“I felt like I had to clutch the ground, like it would knock me over.

“After the peak light had passed, I packed up my equipment and had to hike the entire way down in the dark with just a head lamp.”

With beauty such as this, Justin doesn’t see the need to modify or Photoshop his images.

“Capturing natural beauty as realistically as possible from a unique perspective and at a perfectly aligned time with light is what inspires me,” he said.

He took this approach when planning for a sunrise shot at You Yang’s National Park – a photo he still counts as one of the most magical moments in his career to date.

“I arrived early in pitch black darkness but the moon was so full I didn’t need any artificial lighting,” he said.

“Once I’d set up my camera and waited for the sun to rise, I heard some noises behind me and looked back and only 10m behind me was a family of kangaroos – a little joey and all.

“They stood there throughout the sunrise, and just after the peak light they jumped away.

“It was like they had come to the same spot just to watch the sunrise.”

For the photography buffs out there, Justin said he uses a Sony a7R II and predominantly a Zeiss 16-35mm f4 lens for his digital setup.

And on film, a medium format panoramic Fotoman 617 with either Fuji Velvia or Kodak Ektar film stocks.

He’s moved up to this setup since he started out with an entry-level DSLR, the Canon 1100d with an 18-55mm lens.

But he urged budding photographers to not get caught up in the gear war.

“While a better camera can make your images better, it is mostly just slightly better,” he said.

“Technique, planning and patience is by far the most important and will show through in your photography.

“Getting that perfect shot, the best camera is the one you have on you.”

To contact Justin you can phone 0412 622 275 or email [email protected]